Thursday, August 10, 2017


By Ken Poyner

“You have to let me out.”
He looked at the view screen to see what appeared to be a woman in her fifties, dressed in a night robe, hair still tussled from her sleep cycle. Her arms hung disinterested at her side, and she was staring up at where she seemed to think the room’s primary observation camera would be.
He elected to say nothing, to not begin again the same tired argument.
He sat down at the small breakfast table and began to consider what of the offerings this morning he would select. For twenty-seven years his wife had made the breakfast choices for both of them; but, these last three weeks, her chair at the table remained empty, and he was learning to make choices for himself. There was some hint of conspiracy in the process, a scent of power, a twinge of the sensational. He reviewed the holographic representations and become lost in the thought of option leading to option.
The lights on the room monitor flickered, bringing him back. It was telling him that the woman in the room had activated the shower. In no time at all she would be dressed and made-up and smooth enough for one whole day.
He returned to the licentious holograms of breakfast items.


Today he would finish the area containment system. Power supply was his specialty, so his plan was to outfit the house with a dampening system: a thin wall of interference that would shut down power to any machine attempting to get outside. One moment, the machine would be happily striding towards the door; the next, it would be little more than a static work of art, ready for the transport cart to carry it back in. A manual reset, a moment or two of diagnostic, and it would be as right as rain – until it wandered outside again.
If it works in the house, it might work around the grounds. The domestic machines could roam the yard, work in the garden, play tennis on the court out back. They could not independently leave, or through trickery be stolen. Beyond the grounds, they would be inert.
Do not think of it as a limitation. Think of it as a safety net. Empowerment.
The science of it is not so much a problem as the placement of units. He has everything drawn out, and the mathematics predicts a proper overlap. But he wants to visually sight everything himself, and then test every wall, window and door with an excess housecleaning machine.


Now the woman can leave the room. She pads about mornings in her slippers and housecoat, and at the same time each day goes for her shower, selects her day’s make-up and outfit.
He has his breakfast as she assembles herself. Truth is, she takes as long as she has to take so as to ensure that he is done with his breakfast before she comes out. She primps and preens, and sometimes simply waits. She will be glad when he has finished the yard perimeter dampening system. Then as he eats ever and ever more slowly, she can walk about the grounds, exchange data with the ducks and the one unintelligent fox.
The fox has lenses that can pick up the slightest motion, and has storage for days of observations, but he is programmed to understand none of it. So he stands, and watches. She loves to pick through the stray clips of his memory. It is through him she can see the outside.


“You have to let me out.”
They look at the view screen to see what appears to be a man in his seventies. Thin hair barely lays unkempt across his thinly skinned skull. His arms hang disinterested at his side. He is looking up at what he seems to think is the room’s primary observation camera.
Of course they can let him out. The house system was replaced with a grounds system, and the grounds system has been upgraded. But it is traditional. A rite. A ritual. There is something right about rituals. They bring constancy, a conformity that creates a degree of comfort that steadily sinks past the chemistry, or circuitry, of the brain. The soul of a creation is the sum of its learned expectations. Let it learn.
In a few moments, they will hear the observation control panel alarm, telling them that this man has moved into the maintenance area and is grooming, and preparing to discharge yesterday’s stale battery, replacing it now that today’s fresh one has come on-line.
Satisfied, she will go out for her stroll along the grounds, exchanging soft binary impressions of the lake and the imaginary weather with the ducks. Each time a new machine is selected, she loads again the memories of when her husband was flesh and blood and had to one day lie down and stop. Simply stop. It has become so much of a process that only its repetition has meaning. Stopping itself has no soul.
She will download yesterday’s images, and perhaps those from the day before, from the fox, and this husband will gingerly select the representation for what could be his last, languorous, unnecessary breakfast.

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Ken’s collections of short fiction, “Constant Animals” and “Avenging Cartography”, and his latest collections of poetry, “Victims of a Failed Civics” and “The Book of Robot”, can be obtained from Barking Moose Press, He often serves as bewildering eye-candy at his wife’s power lifting affairs.


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